Bike lights and the law

Rear bicycle light

After a couple of weeks away from cycling — having been recovering from a bad cold — it’s been great to get back on my saddle and pedal around the beautiful Fife countryside of an evening. At least, I think it’s beautiful countryside: I can’t actually see much of it since the clocks have gone back.

There’s no better way to check the effectiveness of one’s lights than going out onto the unlit back roads, out of town, and having a game of “Guess where the road goes next”.

For the last few years, certainly while I was living and cycling in Edinburgh, the brightness of my lights wasn’t really an issue. I needed them to be bright enough to allow other road users to see me. That was all. I didn’t need to light up the road like a halogen lighthouse. That’s what the street lights are for.

But cycling on Her Majesty’s public highway after dark and out of town is a whole other ballpark of worms. I need to both be clearly seen (so that Joe McNed in his souped-up Vauxhall Corsa doesn’t knock me off the road) and clearly be able to see the road ahead (so that I don’t go careering into Farmer McDougal’s field of porridge).

The law

Which got me thinking about my bike lights and the legality of them. I remembered something that the father (a lawyer by profession) of an ex-girlfriend had said to me (in 1997) about bike lights: that if you wanted to use flashing rear lights then you also had to have a static light too.

After about ten minutes searching on Google I stumbled upon the Department for Transport’s webpage Guidance about lights on pedal bicycles which clearly sets out the legal requirements for bike lights.

  1. The use of lighting and reflectors on pedal bicycles is regulated under the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, as amended. The most recent amendment is Statutory Instrument SI 2005 No. 2559 which came into force on October 23rd 2005.

  2. The main effect of the new Regulations was to permit flashing lights on pedal cycles. The flashing lights do however have to conform to certain requirements which are elaborated below.

Obligatory Lighting and Reflectors

  1. Any cycle which is used during the hours of darkness or during periods of poor visibility MUST be fitted with the following:

    • white front light
    • red rear light
    • red rear reflector
    • amber/yellow pedal reflectors – front and rear on each pedal.
  2. The lamps may be steady or flashing, or a mixture – e.g. steady at the front and flashing at the rear. A steady light is recommended at the front when the cycle is used in areas without good street lighting.

  3. If either of the lights is capable of emitting a steady light, then it must conform to BS 6102-3 and be marked accordingly, even if used in flashing mode.

  4. Purely flashing lights are not required to conform to BS6102-3, but the flash rate must be between 60 and 240 equal flashes per minute (1-4 per second) and the luminous intensity must be at least 4 candela. (This should be advised by the manufacturer).

  5. The pedal reflectors and rear reflector must conform to BS 6102-2.

  6. Lights and reflectors not conforming to the BS, but conforming to a corresponding standard of another EC country and marked accordingly, are considered to comply as long as that standard provides an equivalent level of safety.

  7. Lights are NOT required to be fitted on a bicycle at the point of sale – but IF they are fitted, then they must comply with these regulations.

This can also be downloaded as a PDF: Guidance about lights on pedal bicycles (PDF, 32 KB)

It would appear then that the law has changed, from those heady days of 1997, and that flashing rear lights are now permitted on their own.

The CTC (the UK’s national cyclists’ organisation) also has interesting and useful information about bike lights.

4 thoughts on “Bike lights and the law”

  1. Why do you cycle around fife in the dark? Especially since I now have a driving license and reside near you at the weekends! :oD (Buckhaven, the posh part…)

    Oh well, as to the cycle lights thing. A university colleague of mine has changed the intensity of the bulb in his front light so he can blind the car drivers, as they do to him. He also uses a light on his head so he can focus it where he wants to see.

    Good luck with staying alive and stuff! :o)

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